AMSTERDAM – A few boys had abandoned their bikes in a small grove of trees in one corner of the grassy plein. The sounds of their laughter and carefree calling to one another rose above the din of the nearby street. Just beyond where they were playing, a bronze statue of Anne Frank, eyes cast toward the home she left, kept watch. She, too, had played here just steps from her apartment at No. 37-2 Merwedeplein.
The famous young diarist called this square “The Merry.” When my husband and I visited on a recent autumn afternoon, we were the only tourists. Someone had come before us, though, leaving a bouquet of red roses at the foot of the statue. Spending time here, in south Amsterdam away from the hustle and bustle of the city center, was one of the highlights of a recent trip to Amsterdam. Here are a few more.
Exploring Merwedeplein. The bookshop where Frank got her diary still sits on the backside of the same block as the Frank family apartment. We also made a point to find No. 51 Churchill Laan, where Spokane’s Carla Peperzak, now 96, lived as a teenage Dutch Resistance operative during World War II. She attended the same temple as the Franks and was in Hebrew class with Anne’s older sister.
Learning about Dutch Resistance. I visited Anne Frank House, home of the secret annex where the Frank family hid from the Nazis, the last time I was in Amsterdam. This time, I opted for Verzetsmuseum, or Dutch Resistance Museum, which shows how Dutch people responded to Nazi Occupation. The small but well-organized exhibit includes concealed radios, machines used to forge identification cards, the narrow door to a hiding place and – among other things – a jar of preserved tulip bulbs, the likes of which many Dutch people consumed to survive the winter of 1944-1945. The museum also features an exhibit on the Japanese Occupation of the Dutch East Indies.
Visiting Rembrandt’s House. The red-shuttered building where Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn lived from 1639 to 1656 houses Rembrandt House Museum, with reconstructions of the artist’s office, salon and studio and demonstrations of 17th century paint-mixing techniques. The collection includes Rembrandt’s etchings, as well as an explanation of the continuing restoration of his famed “The Night Watch.” The nearby Café de Sluyswacht, built in 1695 as the old lock keeper’s house, offers a close-by, cozy, no-frills spot for refreshment.
Perusing Museumplein. Three major museums – Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Stedelijk Museum (modern and contemporary art) – are located at this sprawling square, the largest in Amsterdam. At Rijksmuseum, watch the progress of the “The Night Watch” restoration and enjoy a vast collection of paintings from other Dutch masters, including Johannes Vermeer, as well as glassware, jewelry, tapestries, model ships and more.
Cruising the canals. Several outfits offer boat rides through Amsterdam’s ring of 165 canals. My husband and I and our two friends who live part time in Amsterdam rented a Mokumboot for two hours on an overcast day. Because of the weather – it was dry but chilly – we nearly had the canals to ourselves.
Shopping the markets. On Saturdays, the lively and crowded Noordermarkt, near Noorderkerk, offers an organic farmers market as well as traditional market with everything from vintage maps, clothing and crystals to mushrooms, cheese and baked goods. The nearby Lindengracht Market carries an abundance of flowers as well as freshly squeezed orange juice, hot sausages and cassoulet, and more cheese and home goods. The café-lined Nieuwmarkt near Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District offers a Saturday market in the shadow of the Waag, a medieval city gate that later served as a weigh house and now houses a restaurant. Find seeds, bulbs and blooms at the colorful, floating Bloemenmarkt.
Burning your mouth on bittenballen. Served piping hot with a side of mustard, these round croquettes, filled with a thick, creamy roux, are popular on pub menus. We didn’t go a day in Amsterdam without them.
Getting crafty. Amsterdam’s craft beer scene is burgeoning. The best one-stop shop is Arendsnest with 52 Dutch beers on tap. Gollem on the Water and nearby Biertuin also boast a wide variety, including offerings from the popular Brouwerij ’t IJ in an old bathhouse next to De Grooyer Windmill. Take the free ferry to Amsterdam Noord to artsy, industrial Oedipus Brewery. Brouwerij Troost has several locations; we visited the original in De Pijp, which brews beer in small batches in a former monastery. Watch the brewmaster at work behind gleaming copper tanks at De Bekeerde Suster. The Bloesem Blond, brewed with elderflower at Gebrouwen door Vrouwen, was a favorite along with local IPAs.
Sampling genever. The craft distillery A. v. Wees operates a restaurant and tasting room along Herengracht, serving its own spirits as well as other Dutch liqueurs. The jonge and oude genever sampler comes with two young and two aged genevers as well as cheese and charcuterie.
Experiencing café culture. Amsterdam’s cafés, especially those along its picturesque canals, offer prime spots for people watching, meeting friends and resting your feet. We especially enjoyed cappuccinos at De Vergulde Gaper, on a busy corner along Prinsengracht, as well as Café Van Zuylen, on a busy corner on Singel canal. Café ‘t Loosje on Nieuwmarkt was great for its variety of beers, salads, sandwiches and other pub grub.
Feasting at Foodhallen. This bustling indoor food court, which was celebrating its fifth anniversary during our visit, sits in a renovated tram depot and features about 20 vendors selling everything from burgers, beer and bao buns to Iberico ham.
Go Dutch. Dutch fare, that is. The intimate and excellent van Kirkwijk doesn’t take reservations, so it’s best to get there early if you don’t want to wait. There are no menus; options are presented by your server. Start with mussels, so good you won’t waste a drop of broth. The signature dish is tenderloin with strawberry sauce and a rich, tangy round of warm goat cheese. Café Sonneveld specializes in down-home, rustic fare. It’s friendly, family-oriented, casual and busy; it helps to have a reservation. The belly-warming stampot features mashed potatoes with seasonal vegetables and a meatball or sausage and gravy. The casually elegant and cozy Café de Toog was a fantastic Oud-West neighborhood find with a streamlined menu spotlighting seasonal ingredients as well as a popular Toogburger and pizza.
Save room for dessert. Do not miss the deep-dish Dutch apple pie at Winkel 43, where it was so busy the night we visited that we took our appeltaart to go. This spot is so well-known for its hearty apple tart – not overly sweet, with a thick, flaky, almost cake-like crust – that the line often stretches around the corner. If you manage to get a seat, opt for a slice with whipped cream along with hot tea made from fresh mint leaves or slices of ginger root.
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